2008: In the last ten months, U.S. MQ-9
Reaper (or "Predator B") UAVs operating in Afghanistan have flown 480 sorties,
each averaging about eight hours. The Reaper has spent most of its time doing
reconnaissance, but has also operated as it was designed, as a combat aircraft.
While the Reaper can carry smart bombs (500 pound JDAMs), the most frequently
used weapon continues to be the 107 pound Hellfire missile. Reaper is now showing up in Iraq as well.
2007 and 2010 the U.S. Air Force plans to buy 170 MQ-1B Predators, and up to 70
MQ-9 Reapers. While the Predator was a reconnaissance aircraft that could carry
weapons (two Hellfire missiles), the Reaper was designed as a combat
aircraft that also does reconnaissance.
The Reaper can carry over half a ton of GPS or laser guided bombs, as well as
the 250 pound SDB, or Hellfire missiles. The Predators cost about $4.5 million each (with sensors, about half as
much without), while the Reaper goes for about $8.5 million (with sensors). The
Reaper can only stay in the air for up to 24 hours, versus 40 hours for the
Predator. But experience has shown that few missions require even 24 hours
endurance. For that reason, the air force decided not to give the Reaper an
in-flight refueling capability. The Reaper also carries sensors equal to those
found in targeting pods like the Sniper XL or Litening, and flies at the same
20,000 foot altitude of most fighters using those pods. This makes the Reaper
immune to most ground fire, and capable of seeing, and attacking, anything down
there. All at one tenth of the price of a manned fighter aircraft. The air force expects to stop buying the
Predator in three years, and switch over to the Reaper, and new designs still